Although the UK MOD has previously stated that it has no plans to arm the Watchkeeper MALE drones scheduled to enter service in the next few months, there is pressure from various sources to add arms to the new drone.
Certainly there is a precedent, because it is widely believed that the Israeli Hermes 450 drone, on which Watchkeeper is based, is armed with missiles and has be used to attack Palestinian positions in Gaza.
There are elements in the UK MOD which are pursuing the option of arming Watchkeeper. Major Matt Moore, an MOD official overseeing the fielding of Watchkeeper in Afghanistan has stated that MOD is considering proposals to arm Watchkeeper with a ‘low collateral damage’ missile. And certainly Thales, the co-contractor of the Watchkeeper system, has made no secret of its wish to arm the Watchkeepers with LMM missiles manufactured by Thales. The LMM was developed in Thales’ Belfast facility.
Military.com has reported that Thales and BAE have considered arming BAE’s Fury UAVs with Thales Javelin missiles. Fury is based on the Herti drone, which has seen deployment in Afghanistan.
Furthermore, there is a programme to arm the BAE Mantis drone, according to military.com.
The UK military already has armed Predator drones which it acquired from the US and which are deployed in Afghanistan.
No doubt Watchkeeper will be introduced without arms to reduce public scrutiny of the controversial weapon, which was late, overpriced, and widely believed to be a poor deal for Britain. At a time when drone assassinations are under increasing public scrutiny, adding weapons to a drone that was sold to the public as a surveillance tool will not be popular.